Humans to explore deep space for the first time in 50 years

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Humans to explore deep space for the first time in 50 years

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:42 am

"Our destiny is to explore, so you want to get your tests behind you."

Ars Technica — May 8, 2018 – It has been a long three-and-a-half years since the Orion spacecraft first launched into space in December 2014, making a successful shake-out flight. But now, NASA’s program aimed at building a large, deep-space capsule capable of sending astronauts to and from lunar orbit is finally ramping back up toward a series of test flights.

In less than a year, a boilerplate model of the Orion spacecraft will be jettisoned from its rocket at 55 seconds after liftoff, to test the vehicle’s launch abort system. Provided that goes well, about a year after that, the Orion spacecraft will be sent into lunar orbit for longer than a week for a shakedown cruise. Finally, as early as June 2022, two to four astronauts will fly aboard Orion into lunar orbit, sending humans into deep space for the first time since 1972.

This isn’t exactly a rapid cadence of flights, but three missions in four years would represent a remarkable increase from the vehicle’s flight rate to date—one in 13 years. “Our destiny is to explore, so you want to get your tests behind you and get humans on the spacecraft, and start that exploration,” Annette Hasbrook, an assistant manager for the Orion program in Houston, told Ars.

Abort test

A few weeks ago, Johnson Space Center invited reporters to view the Orion spacecraft that will undertake the Ascent Abort-2 test flight next April. Constructed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, technicians in Houston are outfitting the crew module with 200 sensors. Although no Starman or Mannequin Skywalker will sit inside—there won’t even be seats—the vehicle will have sensors in the vicinity of where astronauts will be seated to determine forces that astronauts would experience during the test.
NASA intends to conduct the abort test in April 2019 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A stubby first-stage booster from a Peacekeeper missile, modified by Orbital Sciences Corporation, will lift the Orion crew module and launch abort system to just under 10km, reaching Mach 1.3. At that point, under maximum dynamic pressure, the launch-abort system’s motor will fire, pulling the crew vehicle 3km upward, and away from the rocket, in just 15 seconds.

With this one test NASA will attempt to gather data for a variety of abort scenarios, so engineers have chosen a target suite of conditions such as angle of attack and velocity that most defines the situations they’re concerned with. “We couldn’t do a worst-on-worst case for one area, because it wouldn’t tell us about another area,” said Jon Olansen, manager of the Ascent Abort Crew Module for NASA. “So we wanted to try and find a difficult region that can inform all of the regions.”

The agency will collect data from the test to affirm its simulations for a range of conditions in which something goes wrong with the Space Launch System rocket, and the launch-abort system needs to pull the spacecraft quickly away. If everything works as intended, NASA will be ready to produce a final version of the launch-abort system for the first crewed flight.

America’s spacecraft

This flight, known as Exploration Mission-2, may occur sooner than agency planners had thought. Until now, the biggest hurdle between the first deep space test flight of the Orion vehicle, likely in 2020, and the first crew flight has been the need to refurbish a large “mobile launcher” tower. This structure supports the testing and servicing of the massive SLS rocket, as well as moving it to the launchpad and providing a platform from which it will launch.

Between the first test flight and second flight of the rocket, NASA had intended to upgrade the SLS rocket’s upper stage to give it more kick in sending larger payloads deeper into the Solar System. This larger and longer upper stage, known as the “Exploration Upper Stage,” will necessitate significant changes to the mobile launcher. The agency estimated it would take 33 months to accomplish this work, creating a nearly three-year delay between the first and second flights of SLS, and accordingly between the uncrewed and crewed deep space test flights of Orion.

Now, however, NASA has said it will build a second mobile launcher for the more powerful version of the SLS rocket. In turn, the agency has decided to fly the first crewed mission of Orion on the original configuration of the SLS rocket, meaning there is no longer the 33-month “bar” between the two flights.

“Being able to pull that bar out and to have the opportunity to get humans into space a little bit earlier is fantastic,” Hasbrook said.

This has allowed the Orion program to push the crewed launch of it vehicle forward to June, 2022, about a year earlier than previously anticipated. Officials at NASA headquarters have yet to set a formal launch date for Exploration Mission-2 now that the mobile launcher issue has been solved. A decision is likely to come this summer.

Really, it cannot come soon enough. The agency has been “developing” the Orion spacecraft in one form or another since 2005, and it presently spends about $1.35 billion a year on the program, regardless of when it will fly. If Orion, as the agency says, is “America’s spacecraft,” it is time for America to see her in action.

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Re: Humans to explore deep space for the first time in 50 years

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:56 am

The last I heard, 240,000 miles from Earth is not "deep space." We haven't the slightest idea how to propel humans beyond lunar orbit, not even into the rest of the solar system, and IMEO, this is a case not of learning more to be able to do more (as in, say, heavier-than-air flight), but of the more we learn the more we recognize the limits of possibility.

A new manned moon mission cannot be anything other than a gigantic boondoggle, as was, indeed, the first one, which was not made for the sake of science but to whack the crap out of the Russians in the space race. I would speculate that this project has been put on the fast track so that Donald Trump can take credit for it and distract the country from the domestic damage he is doing, not to mention raise false hopes that our future does not rest strictly on Earth, the only home our species will ever have and of which he is such a poor steward. It may be better than starting a war, but the motivation is the same.

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Re: Humans to explore deep space for the first time in 50 years

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:37 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:56 am
The last I heard, 240,000 miles from Earth is not "deep space."
Neither, upon reflection, is 140 million miles.

The last I heard, manned space flight hadn't got much farther than a golf ball can travel from the face of the moon.

Deep space, or not-so-deep space? Science has pronounced it off-limits to mere sublunary beings, so what's the unearthly diff?

Scientists are not unlike sunbathers: they screen themselves from what they turn their faces to. Still, some things done in the name of science can actually be fun, e.g., the thrill of a jump from the edge of deep space, or as precise diction requireth, the void's vasty undeep.

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